Dutch company Abellio has revealed plans to improve on-board WiFi services on all ScotRail routes. Abellio said in a statement that "Rail passengers must have access to high-quality and reliable WiFi."
Abellio had earlier made a commitment that free on-board WiFi will be available to all ScotRail passengers by 2018. However, it now wants to improve the service in a bid to try to remove so-called ‘not-spots’, where the lack of a mobile signal means the train WiFi simply cuts out.
Long-suffering commuters on the Edinburgh to Glasgow route still complain that the service is patchy, this despite a recent investment of £4.4 million by the Scottish Government in improving coverage across the ScotRail network.
John Seglias, Abellio’s group chief information officer, was quoted in the Glasgow Herald as saying that "Good WiFi is increasingly important" to rail passengers. He added: "We don’t just want to say to our customers that our trains are WiFi connected. That’s not enough. We want to ensure that they receive a high-quality and reliable service when they connect."
Seglias confirmed to the Herald "we are currently tendering across a range of technology suppliers for the best solution. We are also in discussion with the major mobile operators on ways to improve existing coverage and reliability, as that has to be part of the overall solution. Where WiFi is available now, we are also looking at immediate ways in which it can be improved."
Currently Scottish trains, like so many others, rely on the mobile network operators to provide a 3G signal to feed the on-board WiFi service. In Scotland there is a particular problem with train lines passing through remote, under-populated areas, which have little or no mobile coverage, and little or no incentive for the network operators to plant their masts there. However, even the line between the country’s two main cities passes through a series of ‘not-spots’, caused by cuttings, tunnels or just poor coverage.
Help may be at hand however, as the UK’s Department for Transport is in the midst of a major consultation over how best to improve coverage throughout the UK’s network of rail links. It also announced in February of this year that £50 million worth of punctuality fines levied against Network Rail would be funnelled back into the railway to fund free WiFi across four franchises in England and Wales: TSGN, Southeastern, Chiltern and Arriva Trains Wales.
The problems of intermittent mobile coverage, proposed trackside solutions and other issues will all be covered in next year’s WiFi on Trains Conference, hosted by BWCS.